Despite bitter economy, glasses remain half full

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					                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Photos by João-Pierre S. Ruth
                                                                                                                  Despite bitter economy,
                                                                                                                  glasses remain half full
                                                                                                                  Vineyard’s new owners pour energy into their growth strategy




At right, Unionville Vineyard’s new owners, Lisa, left, and John Hawkins, reopened the Ringoes winery in April with their
investment partners. Above, customers try out some of the wines for sale at Unionville.

                           By JOÃO-PIERRE S. RutH                      of 12 bottles of wine each. John Hawkins said
                 IF A ROSE that grows amid hardship is stron-          the increased production is a safe gamble, as
                 ger, then the owners of Unionville Vineyard           “demand for New Jersey grapes is greater than
                 hope the same is true of a rosé.                      supply right now.”
                       The new owners of the winery picked a                  John Hawkins, who also is a manag-
                 challenging time to enter the business, with          ing director with Manhattan brokerage
                 the hospitality and retail industries coping          Home2Office Realty Services, said acquiring
                 with consumers dining out less and spending           the vineyard came with a healthy dose of ten-
                 thriftily. At first blush, splurging on a bottle of   sion amid the country’s financial tumult.             priced vintages, he said. “Wines under $15 gen-        other industry has doubled in five years.”
                 Cabernet Sauvignon seems counter to con-                     “The economy was at its worst,” he said,       erally do pretty well in difficult economic times,”         That’s no surprise to longtime vintners
                 ventional wisdom.                                     but he saw an opportunity to reach consumers          he said. “People who spend money on wine               like Tomasello. “If you plant grapes, grow
                       But former restaurateur John Hawkins;           who enjoy wine, but do not want to pay top dol-       trade down. They don’t stop drinking wine.”            grapes, harvest them and make them into
                 his wife, Lisa, senior vice president of market-      lar. “We don’t have to be a Robert Mondavi,”                Tomasello said retailers such as Weg-            wine, you get more return on your investment
                 ing for North America with Christian Dior;            he said, referring to the Oakville, Calif., winery.   mans are carrying New Jersey wines, increas-           than any other crop you could plant,” he said.
                 and their partners believe local wine can win         Like other wineries in the state, unionville’s        ing their exposure. “When you step into retail,             Pavlis said across the country, year-over-
                 over consumers regardless of the economy.             wines are priced more modestly — a bottle of          you are competing with the entire world,” he           year domestic wine case volume was up 4.7
                 The Hawkinses and local landowners Robert             The Big Red Fox runs about $10; at the high end,      said. Tomasello also is encouraged by the              percent as of March, though the growth is not
                 Wilson and Zvi Eiref pooled their resources           a bottle of Pheasant Hill Chardonnay costs $46.       proliferation of more New Jersey wineries.             absolute. “Wine sales in retail are up, but wine
                 to buy unionville, in the Ringoes section of                 Part of the plan to grow the business          “You can’t really have an industry unless you          sales in restaurants are down,” he said. “That’s
                 East Amwell, last October for $1.5 million;           is to reach the largely untapped markets at           have critical mass,” he said.                          because no one is going to restaurants.”
                 they reop
				
DOCUMENT INFO
Description: The new owners of the winery picked a challenging time to enter the business, with the hospitality and retail industries coping with consumers dining out less and spending thriftily. Vineyards supplying the wine industry stand to see a better return on investment compared with other types of crops, said Gary Pavlis, professor of plant physiology at Rutgers University.
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